CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 7. . . .October 15, 2010.
My Havana: Memories of a Cuban Boyhood.
Rosemary Wells with Secundino Fernandez. Illustrated by Peter Ferguson.
Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press (Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada), 2010.
65 pp., hardcover, $23.00.
Fernandez, Secundino-Childhood and youth-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.
Review by Myra Junyk.
I began to draw buildings when I am just able to hold a pencil.
My cousins say, “Dino has a screw loose – filling all those silly sketchbooks with windows and doorways!”
I wouldn’t dare tell my teasing cousins that Havana is like another mother to me, dressed in beautiful colors with sparkling jewelry.
So I tell only my favorite cousin, Mercy. Mercy never makes fun of my sketchbooks. She helps me cut out my drawings carefully, following the lines of the roofs and walls. We string the pictures together with Scotch tape, make a circle of the drawn buildings, and sit inside the ring.
In 1954, Dino is six-years-old and roams the streets of Havana freely with his best friend Alfonso. Dino is very small and wears glasses. He loves to draw and fills entire sketchbooks with his drawings of the incredible architectural detail of Havana which his father calls the “Paris of the Americas.”
However, in 1954, Dino travels to Spain with his family to help a sick relative. At that time, Spain was governed by the Fascist government of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Although he loves being with his grandparents and enjoys the architecture of Madrid, Dino soon comes to experience the fear of the repressive government that is ever-present in Spain.
By 1956, the family is back in their beloved Havana, but things have changed. Fidel Castro leads a communist revolution in Cuba. Castro claims that “Cuba will be like heaven on earth.” However, factory owners lose their factories and their homes because everything now belongs to the people of Cuba. When the violence gets too close to home, Dino’s father decides to take his family to New York City where they will live with relatives. Dino learns that his new country of America is full of strange food, cold weather, cruel classmates and a confusing new language. He misses his home in Havana and keeps his memories alive by creating a cardboard model of his native city.
This engaging story of the Cuban Revolution is told through the eyes of a child. It provides readers with a great deal of historical detail while giving the events a human touch. Dino’s love of architecture and art is woven into the story of Cuban social, cultural and political events. When he arrives in New York City, he encounters the brutal reality of a new language and culture. His teacher and his classmates are not very sympathetic to his plight. Slowly but surely, Dino learns English from advertising, the radio and his fellow students. He even makes a friend in his class when they work together on a drawing.
Rosemary Wells got the idea for My Havana in 2001 when she heard a radio interview by Secundino Fernandez, a Cuban who had come to the United States as a child during the chaos of the Cuban Revolution. Working with Secundino and Peter Ferguson, the illustrator, Wells has created a beautiful testament to Dino’s experiences. Ferguson’s illustrations are absolutely amazing! They seem to glow with a golden luminescence which reflects Dino’s Havana. The dark and dreary pictures of the Spanish Fascists stand in sharp contrast to the images of Dino sketching the incredible architecture of Havana. Pencil drawings on the margins of the page and the photographs of the Fernandez family also add interesting and relevant details to the text.
Myra Junyk, a literacy advocate and author, lives in Toronto, ON.
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